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Suzanne Hartmann

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Top 10 Mistakes New Fiction Writers Make - Part 7
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Top 10 Mistakes New Fiction Writers Make - Part 4
Top 10 Mistakes New Fiction Writers Make - Part 3
Top 10 Mistakes New Fiction Writers Make - Part 2
Top 10 Mistakes New Fiction Writers Make - Part 1
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By Suzanne Hartmann   
Not "rated" by the Author.
Last edited: Wednesday, March 10, 2010
Posted: Wednesday, March 10, 2010

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Part 9 of a 10-part series on common mistakes new authors make and how to fix them.

A Weak Hook
Definition = A hook is a story beginning that grabs the readers' attention so much that it's like hooking them with a lure. They have to read on because they're so curious about what's going to happen.

Related Issue = not starting the story at the right point. Often, determining the correct starting point for the story is one of the most difficult things for a new author to do.

Let's say you're working on a story about a woman who loses her job at the newspaper. She can't find another job, so she decides to become a freelance writer, but can't afford to send her daughter to childcare. Because she thinks being a full-time mom is unimportant, she pays more attention to her work than her daughter.

Don’t start with the day that she gets fired, then follow her through her unsuccessful job hunt and the decision to freelance. That's all backstory.

The story actually starts with the situation which begins her journey towards understanding the importance of motherhood. On this day, she goes to the park and tells her daughter to go play in the playground, then turns her attention to her work. A group of people arrive at the nearby pavilion and start having a party. She is so engrossed in her work that she doesn't notice that someone grabs her daughter. The party gets rather wild. She turns her attention to the party when police arrive. Unable to concentrate any more, she decides to leave, but can't find her daughter.

Don't start with a description of the beautiful day or her decision to go to the park. That's humdrum. There's no excitement, no conflict, and you've told the reader why she's going to the park, so there's no question for the reader to wonder about.

Don't start with a description the park, we all know what a park looks like.

Don't start with something outrageous that happens at the party. The story is about the mother, not the partiers. Starting with something other than the main character can mischaracterize what your story is about and disappoint the reader when they realize that it's not about what they thought.

Start with the action—when the woman notices that her daughter is missing. This will raise all kinds of questions with the reader. You can fill in the details as the action continues. She can explain about why she was at the park when the policeman asks her questions. She can berate herself for not being more observant while she waits for the police officers to finish calming down the partiers (or arresting some of them).

Correction =
1) Determine the true starting point of the story.
2) Start with some type of action rather than a description of the setting.
3) Start with something that happens to the main character.
4) Raise questions in the reader's mind. This will make them want to keep reading to discover the answers.
5) Make sure the hook goes with the rest of your story rather than emphasizing something minor.
6) Don't give away too much information in the hook. You want to keep the readers wondering (but not to the point of frustration), so they want to keep reading.

Why it's important to hook the reader with the first several paragraphs =
1) If readers think the introduction to the story is boring, they may decide that the rest of the book will be boring too.
2) Many readers determine whether they will buy a book based on the first several paragraphs.
3) The first several paragraphs of your book is your introduction to the reader, so you want to make a good first impression.

Web Site: Write at Home

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